As printed in the Defender, the newsletter of the Family Farm Defenders.

I thought that we were doing good deeds. I thought that in some small way we were doing our part to support local agriculture. We have belonged to a local CSA for years. We buy as much “organic” labeled products as we can (whatever the definition). We buy local. We have cut back on our waste. We espouse energy conservation and recycle everything. Of course we were making a difference. But for these reasons I was unprepared for how much I didn’t know.
My education came fast and furious this past summer as I embarked on a journey.. a fight really, to protect our local area from a new dairy CAFO. The Richfield CAFO was moving in not too far from our home on Pleasant Lake in Coloma, WI. What I learned scared me. 4500 cows in this small space? So much waste that it needs to be spread on over 16,000 acres? Think of the pollution. Think of the smell. Think of the disruption. Think of the impact on our local tourist economy. Think of the antibiotics that will enter our food supply. What I didn’t know was that which caused my visceral reaction was just the tip of the pile so to speak.
We forced a public hearing to which hundreds came, signs appeared along roadways, t-shirts were created, and the press took up our cause. And out of nowhere many individuals and organizations came out to help. From the beginning, Family Farm Defenders became a great supporter of our efforts to stop this CAFO. Members of the team and the board provided information, ideas and most importantly, education as to what I should expect. When word of the initial approvals for the dairy came down FFD  stepped in to support us in initiating legal action against the WDNR. This action helped to slow down the approval process which dragged out all summer. Recently, the WDNR issued the final permit and the approval of the high capacity well. Disappointing but not unexpected, we are planning our next move.
But there were surprises as well. While I thought that we were supporting the family farm through our actions, I had no idea of the size, scale and diversity of the major issues impacting these farms today. My education continued as I learned how the economics of these large factory farms negatively impact the market, how families were struggling to survive while large corporate farms dominate the industry. I had no idea how sand mining drove up land values to the detriment of those needing to lease the land. How pesticides sprayed from above power lines would drift down on organic farms and in so doing render them out of business. I didn’t realize these issues were pitting neighbor against neighbor and families against themselves. I was blissfully unaware of the extent of the problems faced by those who practice agriculture in a sustainable manner. Having grown up in rural Minnesota surrounded by farms, with many of my friends living on those farms, I still had this idyllic image in my mind. I had no idea.
Our fight continues against the Richfield CAFO. Win or lose however, this fight has become much larger. This experience has taught me the hard lessons about the “process”. Governmental agencies we rely on are not looking out for our best interests. The fact is that as citizens, we need to balance the influence of corporations. We need to stand up for what we believe. We must take a stand. We must be visible and influential. The state may be “open for business” but as consumers we have a choice in what we buy. The growth of factory farms in Wisconsin and elsewhere cannot continue unabated and unchallenged. We must make sure that the proper regulations and policies are in place to protect us from big business. This process has given rise to a realization that government per se is not the problem but rather that big business has too much influence in the government. We must ensure that our food system and our environment are protected by proper and effective policies. We must vote our way to effective and appropriate transformation in the management of our food supply.
As I put these words on paper I realize that most of you reading them are wondering why the rest of us don’t understand the magnitude of the problems. I confess that I thought I had…but clearly I did not. So consider me a new crusader on the battle field…eager to learn, eager to make a difference. I have much to learn and until I know better, I will do what I can to continue the fight.